Catholic New Service is reporting that a deacon in the Diocese of Des Moines has begun resurrecting the practice of Ember Days in the diocese. Deacon Eric Bertrand is the deacon of Sacred Heart Parish in Chariton and Holy Trinity Parish in Lacona. While reading Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Deacon Bertrand decided to reintroduce the tradition of Ember days in his community.
Ember days are four sets of three days within a week (specifically Wednesday, Friday and Saturday) that are set aside for fasting and prayer. They correspond roughly to the four seasons of the year and precede a liturgical feast day. Ember days were on the liturgical calendar until Pope Paul VI’s apostolic constitution Paenitemini excluded them from days of fasting and abstinence in 1966.
In discussing the impact Evangelii Gaudium had on him, Deacon Bertrand noted that Pope Francis “talked about reawakening popular devotion.” This inspired Deacon Bertrand and other deacons he knew in rural ministry to begin exploring “bringing our spirituality out of the church.” The result was the reintroduction of the practices of Ember Days. Farmers can now request that priests and deacons make home visits and bless their seed, livestock, water sources, equipment, tools and land.
Some farmers are already excited to request this practice. In talking to The Catholic Mirror, the newspaper of the Diocese of Des Moines, Ralph Sheve, a farmer and parishioner of Sacred Heart, said he looks forward to having his farm and livestock blessed:
In blessing my farm, I hope it slows me down a little bit and makes me appreciate everything…I just feel very blessed. If I can do anything to enable me to grow more spiritually when I’m out there doing my physical work, that’s what I’m all about.
I think the resurrection of Ember days could be an important devotional practice for those who live and work in rural areas. These celebrations could remind rural and urban Catholics alike of the importance of the Earth and the fruits obtained from it.